Although jockeying over candidates by the state’s congressional delegation has complicated matters, Obama administration officials say the president still intends to make nominations for the four U.S. Attorney positions in Texas.
Responding to concerns raised by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), White House spokesman Reid Cherlin told Main Justice that the administration remains committed to filling the four slots. “This is a priority for us and we hope to nominate candidates soon,” Cherlin said.
With less than two years in his term remaining, President Barack Obama has yet to appoint Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorneys for the state, leaving the top federal prosecuting jobs in one of the most populous states with temporary appointees. He made one U.S. Attorney nomination for Texas so far, but John B. Stevens Jr. last year withdrew his name from consideration for the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Texas after the Senate Judiciary Committee stalled on his confirmation.
Cornyn told reporters this month that he hasn’t heard anything definitive about U.S. Attorney nominations for his state. The senator said filling the U.S. Attorney posts isn’t a priority for the Obama administration.
However, a newspaper reported that some progress is being made. The Justice Department has started to vet candidates to fill the four U.S. Attorney jobs, The Dallas Morning News reported this week. But the list of candidates is still broad, according to the newspaper.
The nomination process in Texas has been messy. Traditionally, home-state senators recommend candidates to the White House — unless both of the state’s senators are of different parties than the president. That is the case in Texas, where Cornyn and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison are Republicans. In such cases, the president often relies on House members who are members of his political party.
In 2009, the state’s senators sent Obama one list and the Texas House Democrats sent him another. Since then, the senators and the House Democrats, led by Rep. Lloyd Doggett have battled over who gets to recommend candidates to the White House, providing Obama with only a couple of bipartisan options for the U.S. Attorney posts.
Stevens and Michael McCrum were the only candidates on both the Republican and Democratic lists released to the public and sent to the president in 2009. But McCrum, who was recommended for Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney, withdrew his name from consideration, saying he no longer could wait for the president to send his nomination to the Senate.
In addition to Stevens, the Texas senators suggested the current leader of the Eastern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office, John Malcom Bales, as a candidate for a permanent appointment to that office, which is based in Beaumont. U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Pitman got the senators’ endorsement too, joining McCrum on their list of candidates for the Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is based in San Antonio.
The senators also recommended that Obama nominate Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson to lead the Houston-based Southern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana to take the reins of Dallas-based Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Doggett’s publicly released list in 2009 did not include any candidates for the Northern and Southern districts. But the congressman said last year that he recommended U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeff Kaplan for Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney.
Cornyn has been vocal about his support for Saldana, telling The Dallas Morning News last year that he would “go to the mat” for her. Saldana has faced opposition from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) over concerns about the Assistant U.S. Attorney’s successful public corruption prosecution of former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill (D) and former state Rep. Terri Hodge (D), according to The Dallas Morning News.
Of the 93 U.S. Attorney posts across the country, 17 remain in office because a replacement has not yet been nominated by Obama or confirmed by the Senate. The president made four U.S. Attorney nominations so far this year. But the Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to consider the nominations.
President George W. Bush had Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorney appointees in place at the four Texas U.S. Attorney’s offices by April 2002, a little more than a year after he took office. His job no doubt was made easier by his having served as the state’s governor, making him familiar with the political landscape.
President Bill Clinton had two Senate-confirmed Texas U.S. Attorney appointees in place less than a year after he became president. But the Eastern District of Texas did not get a Senate-confirmed leader appointed by Clinton until fall 1994, and the Western District of Texas didn’t receive one until November 1997, nearly four years after he took office.
The Texas U.S. Attorney posts have not been held by Senate-confirmed appointees since at least April 2009.
Johnny Sutton, whom Bush appointed in 2001, stepped down as Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney in April 2009. John E. Murphy has led the office since then.
Rebecca A. Gregory, whom Bush appointed in 2007, resigned as Eastern District of Texas U.S. Attorney in April 2009. Bales has headed the office since her departure.
Richard Roper, whom Bush appointed in 2004, stepped down as Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney in December 2008. James T. Jacks has led the office since then.
Don DeGabrielle, whom Bush appointed in 2006, resigned as Southern District of Texas U.S. Attorney in November 2008. Jose Angel Moreno has headed the office since February 2010.
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Former U.S. Attorney Matt Mead (R) was sworn in on Monday as Wyoming’s 32nd governor.
Mead served as the state’s U.S. Attorney from from 2001 to 2007. He already has named several of his former colleagues from the office to his administration.
At the swearing-in ceremony and at the inaugural ball that night were several former U.S. Attorneys, according to former Colorado U.S. Attorney Troy Eid, who attend the events.
Among those in attendance were Bill Mercer of Montana, Johnny Sutton of the Western District of Texas, John Ratcliffe of the Eastern District of Texas, Tom Moss of Idaho and Susan Brooks of the Southern District of Indiana, according to Eid.
This story has been corrected from an earlier version.
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Former federal prosecutors were mostly victorious in their congressional bids for office Tuesday.
Ex-Justice Department lawyers won House and Senate races in Texas, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Arkansas. But two former DOJers lost races for the U.S. Senate seats in Iowa and Colorado.
With 91 percent of precincts reporting, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), a former federal prosecutor, was elected to his fourth term with 65 percent of the vote. His challenger, Democrat Ted Ankrum, a former NASA executive, received 33 percent of the vote for the seat representing parts of Houston and Austin.
McCaul served in the DOJ Public Integrity Section and Civil Division in D.C. from 1991 to 1999, and as Chief of Counterterrorism and National Security Division in the Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office from 2002 to 2003.
Former U.S. Attorneys Tom Marino of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Patrick Meehan of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut also won congressional elections, as did former interim U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin of the Eastern District of Arkansas.
But two former Justice Department lawyers did not fare as well.
On Wednesday morning, the Denver Post called the state’s Senate race for Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. The race, between Bennet and Republican Ken Buck, a former Colorado Assistant U.S. Attorney from 1990 to 2001, remained close throughout Tuesday night. With 87 percent of precincts reporting, Bennet leads Buck by about 7,000 votes. According to the Denver Post, state law will require a recount if Buck closes the gap to less than 3,900 votes.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Democrat Roxanne Conlin, a former U.S. Attorney, received 33 percent of the vote in her bid to unseat Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Grassley won 65 percent of the vote.
Conlin was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa from 1977 to 1981. The former prosecutor was also the Democratic nominee for Iowa governor in 1982. Conlin has been in private practice since 1983. She is a partner at Des Moines law firm Roxanne Conlin & Associates PC.
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A husband-and-wife prosecution team involved with several high-profile cases will leave the Justice Department after serving decades in the San Antonio-based U.S. Attorney’s office, The Associated Press reported.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ray and LeRoy Jahn, who have worked a combined 81 years in the Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s office, handled the Whitewater investigation into allegations of an illegal land deal involving former President Bill Clinton and the successful prosecution of actor Woody Harrelson’s father, Charles Harrelson, who killed U.S. District Judge John H. Wood. They also successfully prosecuted several Branch Davidians, who were involved in the 1993 standoff with federal authorities in Waco, Texas.
The couple told the AP that the Branch Davidian case was their hardest prosecution “without a doubt.”
Ray and LeRoy, both 67, spent most of their time together, and are often referred to as “The Jahn,” according to the newswire.
“They’re a legend,” said Alan Brown, a veteran San Antonio criminal defense lawyer.
The Jahns rarely agreed to interviews during their careers, taking the advice of former U.S. Attorney William Sessions.
“The most important lesson we learned from Bill Sessions on how to deal with the press was, One, never screw up on a slow news day, and two, you can’t misquote no comment,’ ” Ray Jahn said.
The couple, who are grandparents, shared little about their future plans with the media.
“[We want] to do what we want to do if we want to do it, when we want to do it and how we want do it,” LeRoy told The AP.
The nomination of Michael McCrum, a San Antonio-based lawyer at Thompson & Knight LLP, to be the next U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas is “forthcoming,” a Senate staffer told The Texas Tribune.
Republican Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison in November 2009 recommended McCrum and Robert Pitman, a Western District of Texas U.S. magistrate judge who is gay, for the job. Main Justice reported that McCrum has the inside track on the job in part because he was recommended by both the Republican senators and Texas’s House Democrats, making him a consensus choice.
Nominations in Texas have been delayed because of disagreements between the state’s two Republican senators and the House Democrats recommending candidates to the White House. So far, President Barack Obama has nominated only one U.S. Attorney to take one of the four open positions in Texas — John Stevens for the Eastern District of Texas. Earlier this month Stevens withdrew his name from consideration citing the best interests of his family.
Names have been forward to the White House for the other districts.
Cornyn and Hutchison recommended Sarah Saldana, an Assistant U.S. Attorney who heads the fraud and public corruption division in Dallas, for the Northern District and Kenneth Magidson, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Houston and head of the organized crime drug enforcement task force for the Southwest region, for the Southern District.
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Managing a district that encompasses the largest shared border with a foreign country would be difficult in itself. But that challenge is only amplified by the drug wars along the Mexican border, said Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Thomas Smith in the Western District of Texas.
“The majority of the crime is related to drugs, even the homicides are related to drugs. There’s a lot of activity,” said Smith, who is based out of San Antonio.
Smith was honored with a special achievement award from U.S. Marshal Director John Clark for his leadership of the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force at a U.S. Marshal awards ceremony Tuesday. Smith’s district covers the most border with Mexico of any state and the task force continues to achieve a record number of arrests with more than 25,000 arrests in five years. Smith also has overseen the capture of two fugitives from the San Antonio Division’s 15 most wanted list.
The U.S. Marshals commended Smith for his cooperative efforts in the law enforcement community and his strong rapport with local media outlets. He was also recognized for epitomizing “the image and stellar reputation of legendary Deputy U.S. Marshals for their focused, unrelenting pursuit of criminals.”
Smith said working with local law enforcement officials was essential to the mission of the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force.
“The success of all this is because of our partners in the state and local community,” Smith said. “They work with us, we treat them as equals, we’re all in it together and they really respect that. They don’t really look at us as a federal agency. They accept us more than they would another federal agency. That’s a testament to the temperament and the personality of the deputy U.S. Marshals and the administrative staff of the Marshals Service as a whole.”
A former senior U.S. Border Patrol agent in Texas plans to ask for a new trial to overturn his conviction on charges that he shot a fleeing Mexican drug smuggler in the buttocks, The Houston Chronicle reported today.
Ignacio Ramos and his former partner, Jose Compean, were sentenced in October 2006 to more than 10 years in prison after convictions on charges stemming from the shooting, which prosecutors said the agents tried to cover up. President George W. Bush commuted their sentences on his last full day in office amid mounting pressure from conservative commentators and even many Democrats, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.
The successful prosecution led by then-Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton had become a cause célèbre in many conservative circles, with supporters of the two agents arguing they were simply doing their jobs. Prosecutors maintained, however, that Ramos and Compean shot a man and tried to cover it up.
“I know I’m rolling the dice,” Ramos told The Chronicle, noting that prosecutors could bring new charges.
Bush commuted the sentences, rather than pardoning the two agents, and so they remain convicted felons. Ramos told the Houston newspaper, “We don’t go into it blind. We talk about it, and we both know the risks. And it’s hard knowing what the possibility is. But it is important for me to be cleared.”
Sutton defended the prosecution and said it was “about the rule of law,” according to the newspaper.
The former U.S. Attorney said at his farewell news conference in April 2009 that the harsh criticism leveled at him by conservatives for his prosecution of the border agents has made him more aware of the need to get out in front of a story.
“The … case was an amazing tidal wave of misinformation. … I want to be a conservative voice of reason in the media,” Sutton said, according to the Austin American-Statesman. He added that he thought the two agents’ sentences of more than 10 years were “harsh.”
We reported in July that the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Ramos and Compean Justice Act, which would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for law enforcement officials who use their guns in a crime while on duty. They received their sentences because of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) is the bill’s sponsor.
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The Dallas Morning News outed Republican Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison yesterday for making a rather uncharacteristic decision in one of their U.S. Attorney recommendations.
Robert Pitman, a Western District of Texas U.S. magistrate judge who is gay, was one of two people the GOP senators recommended for the San Antonio-based prosecutor’s post. The Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights advocacy group, gave Cornyn and Huthison a 0 percent rating on its report card of the 110th Congress.
It’s unclear whether Hutchison knew what she was getting into by endorsing Pitman. Her spokesperson, Jeff Sadosky, told the newspaper he wasn’t sure if she was aware of his sexual orientation. Cornyn spokesperson Kevin McLaughlin told The Morning News his boss knew Pitman was gay, but said it didn’t figure into the senator’s decision.
“A person’s sexuality has no bearing on his qualifications for a job. … It’s just not even remotely considered,” McLaughlin told the newspaper.
Some Texas social conservatives aren’t too happy about the revelation, which could make life difficult for Hutchison, who is running for Texas governor. Her opponent in the GOP primary in March is Republican Gov. Rick Perry, from the party’s dominant conservative wing.
Texas Home School Coalition president Tim Lambert, who is a Perry supporter, told The Morning News that recommending Pitman was “very unusual and disturbing.” He added: ”I suspect that a lot of Republican primary voters would find it interesting that Senator Hutchison would make that recommendation.”
Pitman, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, is well respected in the Texas legal community, according to the newspaper. A recent bar association poll ranked him as the most capable judge in Travis County, The Morning News said. However, it appears Michael McCrum, a San Antonio-based lawyer at the Thompson & Knight law firm, has the inside track on the job. McCrum was recommended by both the Republican senators and Texas’s House Democrats, making him a consensus choice.
The chairman of the Texas Democratic delegation in Congress, Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin, has been in a fierce battle with Cornyn for control of the recommendation process. President Barack Obama ultimately makes the nominations.
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The chair of the Texas Democratic House delegation wants to make clear he didn’t buckle to pressure from the state’s Republican senators when he agreed to a compromise candidate for the Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney post.
There was “no ‘retreat’ whatsoever,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said in a statement emailed to us today.
We reported last week that Doggett supported President Obama’s decision to nominate San Antonio-based lawyer Michael McCrum for the post.
McCrum was also recommended in another list of U.S. Attorney candidates sent to the White House by Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, who refuse to cede control of the nomination process just because a Democrat now holds the White House.
There were “tense consultations” between Doggett and the senators on the Western District U.S. Attorney pick, The Austin American-Statesman reported. Doggett’s top choice was Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, who is from his Austin home base. But McCrum emerged as the consensus pick. Cornyn, a Senate Judiciary Committee member, has vowed to block any U.S. Attorney pick that didn’t pass through a screening committee set up earlier this year by the Republicans.
In an interview with Main Justice last June, Doggett insisted the Democratic delegation would have the final say on recommendations to the White House.
But given that the Republican senators’ views are clearly carrying weight, we added in our story last week: “It would appear that Doggett has had to retreat somewhat from his tough talk earlier in the year.” That’s the sentence that Doggett is objecting to. (We did make an effort to get Doggett’s views last week, but his spokeswoman didn’t have much to tell us).
Okay, so now we have Doggett’s response. Here is his full statement:
Regarding Main Justice’s Friday story titled ‘Dueling Lists,’ I want to make one thing clear: there has been no “retreat” whatsoever.
President Obama is fully honoring his previous public commitment that no Texas federal judge, attorney, or marshal will be nominated without the Texas Democratic Delegation’s support. As to U.S. Attorney for Western District, my personal first choice was our outstanding Travis County Attorney David Escamilla. But, at my Democratic colleagues’ request, I agreed to submit his name simultaneously with others, without prioritization, including LULAC-supported Michael McCrum. Without full confidence in McCrum, I would not have recommended him.
The Texas Democratic Delegation does not make recommendations to the Senators.
The Senators can, of course, decide whether they want to attempt to block any of these well-qualified individuals.
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Texas’s Republican senators and the state’s House Democrats have submitted separate lists of U.S. Attorney recommendations to the White House, setting the scene for a partisan shootout.
We reported yesterday that Sen. John Cornyn is threatening to block anyone but Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana for the U.S. Attorney post in North Texas. And the Texas House Democrats, led by delegation chairman Rep. Lloyd Doggett, don’t want Saldana. So that’s one showdown.
Then today, we got our hands on this news release issued by Cornyn and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison that appears to raise the stakes. The Republican senators, not willing to be cut out of the nomination process just because a Democrat now holds the White House, have submitted a complete list of candidates for all four of the state’s U.S. Attorney offices.
In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Cornyn reaffirmed his intention to block any U.S. Attorney nominee that did not go through his Republican screening committee. ”It’s the president’s prerogative to nominate anybody he wants,” Cornyn said. “But it’s the prerogative of the Senate to decide whether those individuals will be confirmed.”
Here is the list of the GOP recommended candidates, from the Cornyn-Hutchison news release:
-John B. Stevens Jr. (Recommended by Texas senators and Doggett): He is a judge in the Jefferson County Criminal District Court in Texas.
-John Malcolm Bales (Recommended by Texas senators): He is the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.
-Sarah Saldana (Recommended by Texas senators): The Assistant U.S. Attorney heads the fraud and public corruption division in the Dallas-based Northern District.
Southern District of Texas:
-Kenneth Magidson (Recommended by Texas senators): The Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Houston-based office heads the organized crime drug enforcement task force for the Southwest region.
Western District of Texas:
-Michael McCrum (Recommended by Texas senators and Doggett): He is a San Antonio-based lawyer at the Thompson & Knight law firm, where he focuses on white collar criminal defense. Read more about him here.
-Robert Pitman (Recommended by Texas senators): He is a U.S. magistrate judge in the Western District of Texas.
In two instances, the candidates picked by the senators were also acceptable to Democrats — and they now appear on their way toward nomination. As we reported Wednesday, they are McCrum in San Antonio and Stevens for the Beaumont-based Eastern district. Doggett issued this news release Wednesday formally recommending McCrum and Stevens.
Doggett said in the news release that he reached agreement with the White House before making those two recommendations on behalf of the Texas Democrats. The negotiation included ”tense consultations” between Doggett and the senators, The Austin American-Statesman reported yesterday. The Obama White House has been reluctant to put names forward that Republican senators don’t support.
It would appear that Doggett has had to retreat somewhat from his tough talk earlier in the year. In an interview with Main Justice in June, he insisted the Democratic delegation would have the final say on recommendations to the White House. But Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, in Doggett’s Austin home base, was the congressman’s first choice for the Western District, the Austin American-Statesman reported. But Escamilla didn’t have the support of the Republican senators and was eliminated.
Texas Democrats support Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Terri Moore and Dallas civil lawyer Roger Williams for the Northern District. But in the face of apparent opposition from the GOP senators, the Democrats have made no formal announcement.
“We thought Sarah Saldana was the best candidate and that’s why we sent her name to the White House,” Cornyn told reporters yesterday about his Northern District choice. “My hope is that the White House will choose her and make that appointment.”
It’s unclear why the House Democrats snubbed Saldana, whom the Morning News describes as “a candidate with strong Democratic credentials.” She played a key role in a Dallas City Hall corruption trial that some Democrats cast as politically motivated, but Johnson said her involvement was not a factor.
Doggett said in a statement to The Dallas Morning News that the Texas Democratic delegation “never sought confrontation with our senators.”
“I understand they were more comfortable with an inside Republican process, but elections matter,” he said. “Insisting that one and only one person whom they select can be appointed to one of these positions would be a clear abuse of authority.”
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